Malik Francis ’24 (ENG), has taken full advantage of the research and professional opportunities UConn has to offer from researching machine learning, to developing a sustainable energy project for UConn Storrs, to interning for Raytheon Technologies.
Francis, a computer engineering major, has been doing research for the past two years.
As a CAPS Research Apprentice, within the Center for Access and Postsecondary Success, Francis was paired with Farhad Imani, Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, whose interests include machine learning, quality, and reliability improvement with applications in advanced manufacturing.
The selective CAPS Research Apprenticeship Program pairs first-generation college students in STEM majors with faculty researchers to gain first-hand research experience and learning the foundations of academic writing, graduate school applications, and seeking summer internships.
“Renee Trueman of the CAPS Research office pairs you with a professor and you’re able to get right into the environment you requested,” Francis says. “You are able to choose from a great collection of professors on the UConn campus, studying in a diverse spectrum of fields.”
Additive manufacturing is 3-D printing physical objects with metals instead of plastics, Francis explains. Francis worked with Imani to research and develop machine learning algorithms to detect defects in metal objects.
Francis was first introduced to machine learning through a friend. His conversations with his friend and later experience with Imani showed Francis the potential of machine learning to address real-world problems, further solidifying his interest in pursuing machine learning engineering.
“It was a great fit for me at the moment, and I was eager to learn more,” Francis says. “And, through working with Dr. Imani’s expertise and passion for pushing boundaries showed me how machine learning can transform the future.”
Francis was also selected as a 2022-23 CAPS Research Scholar, where he gained invaluable hands-on experience continuing his project with Imani, mentorship, as well as professional development and financial and cultural literacy with his CAPS Research cohort.
The CAPS Research office offers the Apprentice opportunity as well as CAPS Research Scholar and McNair Scholar. As a Scholar, mentorship and research guidance continue for all semesters until graduation alongside step-by-step assistance with graduate school applications and funding to present at research conferences.
“I think it was a great experience considering all of the technical skills you develop and being able to network with students and professors within your major,” Francis says.
Francis is now working on a project for the Clean Energy and Sustainability Innovation Program at UConn. Francis and his teammates developed a plan for UConn Storrs to integrate fuel cells with UConn’s co-generation plant to create a more sustainable environment on the main campus. Fuel cells convert the energy from a chemical reaction into electricity with lower carbon emissions.
“We’re basically trying to integrate fuel cell technologies onto the UConn main campus, in order to meet or exceed the rising energy demands while lowering our carbon emissions,” Francis says.
Over the past summer, and into the fall semester, Francis has interned with Raytheon Technologies Collins Aerospace as a data science intern. Francis has helped develop machine learning algorithms to address problems like aircraft maintenance with predictive analytics and machine learning methods.
Francis, who is originally from Jamaica, has also been a part of ScHOLA2RS House, a learning community for Black men. Being part of ScHOLA2RS House served as Francis’ introduction to research as it was through this learning community that he learned about the programs offered through the CAPS Research office and applied to be an Apprentice and then a Scholar.
“That was the main reason I even discovered research,” Francis says. “I feel like without them I wouldn’t have come this far.”
After graduation, Francis plans to work in industry as a machine learning engineer, with a potential future continuing his research in graduate school.
Francis says the opportunities to connect with companies through UConn career fairs as well as ScHOLA2RS House events have prepared him to start a career after graduation.
“Through the research experiences and also the ability to connect with different companies in a professional setting, I feel like UConn’s done a great job,” Francis says. “I think UConn provides you with a great amount of preparation for an industry and research position. I feel like this is the ideal school for you, as long as you are motivated and take advantage of opportunities.”
October is the Month of Discovery, when undergraduates are introduced to the wealth of research and innovation opportunities at UConn. This month, enjoy profiles of outstanding undergraduate researchers on UConn Today, attend a full slate of programming on campus and online, and register for Discovery Quest to launch your undergraduate experience to new heights.